Skunks! They’re not your subtle kind of problem. If your pet gets sprayed, you’re sure to know it.
Many dogs and cats have run-ins with these critters, especially since they’re common both in country and urban landscapes. Skunks are lured into your yard by a number of things. Sometimes they might just be passing through, but at other times they’re sniffing out your garbage or looking for scraps left from your pet’s meals.
If you’re not careful, skunks might even venture in through a pet door in search of your pet’s food bowl. One night I walked into our kitty room to check on the cat. I thought she was getting a snack from her food bowl, but a second look told me it was actually a skunk! I don’t know who was more surprised, but I may or may not have screamed, and the skunk was so spooked it bolted and hid behind our water heater. I’ll admit I tempted fate a little when I got a broom and shooed it back out the door. From then on, I was better about controlling who was using the pet door, and I made sure that the cat food wasn’t becoming a free handout to any critter passing by.
If a skunk is lurking nearby, naturally your dog or cat will want to investigate this trespasser on their domain. All too often, that curiosity leads to a sprayed cat or dog.
So why is skunk spray such a big problem? First of all it stinks, figuratively and literally. Cleaning up a sprayed pet is no walk in the park. Remember, skunk spray is a defense mechanism and a survival tool for skunks. They wouldn’t still be around if it wasn’t super effective.
The chemical makeup of skunk spray gives it a few tricky characteristics: tricky for you and your pet but pretty darn effective for the skunk. First, the stuff stinks. Really bad. That alone should be deterrent enough for pets and humans alike, but skunk spray is also oil-based. This means that it will not wash out easily with a simple rinse. In fact, water bonds with skunk spray in such a way that the smell becomes even stronger. Oh, the deviousness! So if you spray down your pet with the hose, you’re only making the stench worse! Finally, skunk spray is an irritant to the eyes and nose. And you can imagine it’s not pleasant to taste in the mouth either. It can be temporarily blinding to your pet, both in their vision and their ability to smell.
Of all the treatments for skunk spray, the best is to prevent it from ever happening. If you know you have a skunk problem in your area, you can try to limit your pet’s free range in the yard in the twilight hours when skunks are out and about. You can also take care to skunk-proof your yard. Buried fences (fencing that extends a little ways underground) are your friends. Also take care to secure your trash in sealed cans so the odor does not attract scavengers. Avoid leaving bags of garbage on the street curb over night. Try to keep your pet’s food supply in a place where only your pet can access it.
The next best thing you can do is to educate yourself about the proper response in the event your pet does get skunk sprayed. See the next post “Skunks! How to de-skunk your pet” for how to respond in a stinky situation.
Living next to an open field meant that we had our fair share of critter experiences, including encounters with skunks. Probably our very worst case was when our cat got sprayed. She was a new mama with kittens who were still nursing. One night while she was out prowling, she ended up on the wrong side of a skunk. When we found her, she was meowing piteously and rubbing at her face where she had caught the full blast of the skunk attack. Our biggest worry was that her babies would stop nursing because of the foul and unfamiliar odor that was clinging to her. As quickly as we could, we got her in a sink, flushed her face with water to clear her eyes of the stuff, and then, since we didn’t have anything better on hand, we busted out the V8 juice. It was a pretty miserable night for our kitty. Luckily, her coat was dark, so she didn’t suffer any discoloration from the juice. It took some time and trouble, but in the end, we got the smell to go away. And, happily, the kittens didn’t seem the wiser about their mom’s stinky encounter. They kept nursing like normal.